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As a very unusual school year came to a close, we talked to Jude Daniel Smith, a youth activist and Campaign Coordinator for Teach the Future. Despite only joining the organisation in February, Jude has already been part of big progress made since. We talk about how he started in the climate movement and why the need for climate education is so urgent.
In recent years, the climate movement has seen more young people come to the forefront. Most high profile perhaps, being in the international School Strike for Climate movement – those like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villasenor, and Leah Namugerwa.
In the UK however, a new and pointed movement is growing rapidly. Run jointly by UKSCN (UK Student Climate Network) and SOS-UK (Students Organising for Sustainability UK), Teach the Future aims to reshape the school curriculum to reflect the urgency of the climate crisis and equip younger generations for its inevitable impact on their future. Jude believes that this urgency is what is mobilising younger activists so strongly in this area.
The steps to climate education
Teach the Future are very clear in their path to change. Jude explains the 3 key asks of the movement and why they are so vital to progress.
First, they are calling for a government review. This will examine how the current education system is equipping students with the knowledge to manage the coming ecological crisis.
Second, Jude points out that only 75% of teachers have said that feel equipped to teach their students on the climate crisis. He does note that his Geography teacher went above and beyond to teach them on the topic. But this is an outlying case. It is not enough for teachers to care about the climate crisis if they are not empowered to teach it. So, it is down to those in government and on school boards to support educators in this vital way.
“Our biggest inspiration was in reality more of a let-down, like we’d been let down by our education system…We were sort of doing it through frustration rather than from inspiration.”
The third ask, an English Climate Emergency Education Act. Teach the Future members have already drafted this bill and they say that it would be the first piece of education regulation to be written by students.
Integrating climate change across the curriculum
What Jude emphasises about climate education is that it must not be optional or a side-note to a larger topic. Rather, the climate crisis is the bigger issue. He points out that in the current curriculum, most students will only be able to access more detailed learning on the climate through advanced Geography. Or sometimes optional modules in Design and Technology (a subject somewhat analogous to the US’ “shop class” of old). What Teach the Future are calling for is the integration of climate issues across the board, as Jude argues that these topics are applicable to all subjects in one way or another.
Access and agency
Importantly, we also grapple with the fact that access to resources and information on sustainability is not equal in England. Growing up in Sheffield, Jude speaks from personal experience of seeing reactions to the climate movement from an area previously so based in the coal mining industry. Here we see how a lack of government support for these communities compounded with a lack of education on the climate crisis can sew disillusionment or simply apathy. Jude believes that universal climate education backed by the government is what is needed to “turn anxiety into agency.”